Quantification of subjective attributes expressed as functions of design variables is a significant challenge in creating product design optimization models. For example, the objective assessment of a vehicle’s environmental friendliness is typically based on fuel economy and emissions. But some design variables such as a vehicle’s silhouette (two-dimensional body shape) may create a subjective perception of environmental friendliness, which may impact consumer preference along with objective metrics. In this paper, we show a method for assessing subjective attributes in the context of design attributes. We focus on perceived environmental friendliness (PEF) and we develop a model of PEF as a function of vehicle silhouette shape variables. The modeling process consists of stimuli development using design of experiments, survey design including direct assessment of the key subjective attribute PEF, elicitation of consumer preference, measurement of purported subjective mechanisms (for the PEF case, whether the design is “inspired by nature”), measurement of respondent characteristics (for the PEF case, environmental attitudes and demographics), statistical analysis of data, and validation. Results for the PEF example indicate that silhouettes perceived as environmentally friendly are the most preferred. Design variables that correlated with PEF were identified and used to generate new designs, which were validated in a follow-up study. Implications of using the general methodology in engineering design are discussed.

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